RJD’s old warhorse in Darbhanga faces an uphill task against BJP

Shifting Kirti Azad to Jharkhand and fielding Abdul Bari Siddiqui in his place has made the battle for this north Bihar LS seat tough for the opposition Grand Alliance

Congress and RJD leaders in Bihar
Congress and RJD leaders in Bihar
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Farhana Kalam

It should have been a cakewalk for the opposition Grand Alliance in Darbhanga Parliamentary constituency in North Bihar. But the RJD candidate Abdul Bari Siddiqui is clearly fighting with his back to the wall.

Cricketer turned politician Kirti Azad had won the seat in 2009 and 2014. as the BJP candidate. He was hopeful of being fielded by the Congress after quitting BJP earlier this year. But the RJD was not willing to concede the seat to the Congress, as a result of which Azad had to shift to Dhanbad in Jharkhand, points out Congress leader Mohammed Moosa. Azad would have had the advantage, he reflects, had he contested from Darbhanga.

What makes the battle tough for RJD’s Siddiqui is that he has to face opposition from within the party and outside. Alliance partner, Congress is not happy with the short shrift given to the party in Mithilanchal, a traditional Brahmin dominated region.

Former Union Minister MAA Fatmi, the four-time winner of the Darbhanga seat has quit the party to register protest against the nomination of Abdul Bari Siddiqui. If political observers are to be believed, Fatmi is all set to join the NDA bandwagon risking the loss of support from the Muslim community.

The faux pas by the grand alliance in the matter of seat distribution, as well as the selection of candidates, has made things less difficult for BJP candidate Gopalji Thakur, otherwise a political lightweight in comparison to his high profile opponent. But profile matters little in a highly polarised campaign, says Congress leader Prof Arun Kumar Prasad.

A sizeable section of Brahmins, who would have voted for Azad, may now aggressively vote against the grand alliance, apprehends the Congress leader.

The BJP is likely to use its ‘Love Jihad’ card against Siddiqui whose wife is Nutan Sinha, a fellow JP movement activist. To Siddiqui’s credit, he did not force Nutan Sinha to convert to Islam and the couple practice their respective faiths without any trace of acrimony.

Though Nutan Sinha hails from Kayastha caste, Siddiqui would not get any political mileage because Kayastha is in a microscopic minority in Darbhanga.

Unlike Siddiqui, Dy CM Sushil Modi had to pay a heavy price for inter-religious marriage. Sushil Modi was denied the BJP ticket in 1990 assembly elections as punishment for having married a Christian girl.

Asked if the internal dynamics of the state’s Muslim society would go against Siddiqui in this election, retired IPS MA Kazmi, a keen observer of Muslim politics said that the forward-backward divide in the state’s Muslim society had now been eroded thanks mainly to the threat from menacingly aggressive Hindutva championed by PM Narendra Modi.

A section of non-upper caste Muslims, particularly Momins and Raeens (the caste men of late Abdul Qayum Ansari and late Ghulam Sarwar) are unhappy with both the major alliances for not nominating a single backward leader.

Some even threatened to use the NOTA option. All six Muslim candidates of the Grand Alliance (RJD 4, Congress 2) and the two Muslim candidates put up by the NDA including Chaudhary Mahboob Ali Qaiser, the LJP candidate from Khagaria, are upper caste Muslims. Thus leaders of the backward Muslims including Dr. Ejaz Ali and Ali Anwar, both former MPs stand completely marginalized.

As per Kazmi’s assessment, Momins constitute a small minority among the Muslim population of Darbhanga Parliamentary constituency and as such they are not in a position to change the election outcome in a decisive manner.

Not long ago, former speaker late Ghulam Sarwar and Jabir Hussain, former chairman of Bihar Legislative Council had fought an acrimonious war of words on the issue of forward-backward divide within the Muslim community. While Jabir Hussain, a Shia Muslim claiming a very good lineage, represented the upper caste Muslims, Ghulam Sarwar belonging to the Raeen caste (vegetable growers and sellers) represented the backward Muslims. RJD chief Lalu Prasad had a very hard time balancing the two opposite poles of state’s Muslim politics.

Siddiqui may be down but he is certainly not out and is locked in a keenly contested election in Darbhanga. Much will also depend on the voting behavior of non-Yadav OBCs in the light of the perceived threat to job reservation facility in case Modi led govt is installed once again.

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